Commentaries

deep connections

Third Factory runs its "Attention Span" series (comments on poetry) every so often. Yesterday a new "Attention Span" was released--by Tom Devaney. One of Devaney's selections, I'm pleased to say, was my book:


Alan Filreis | Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-1960 | North Carolina | 2008

Yes, it’s a serious historical book, a major book, but Filreis’s personal voice and deep connections to mid-century modernism show how many formal concerns of the work were linked to progressive politics; it is an untold history of the so-called language/nature problem (and the reactions to it) that continue into our moment.


While you're at Third Factory, be sure to keep up with Lipstick of Noise - listening and linking to poetry audio files.

Stevens reaches the dead end

Here at a large conference hotel on Copley Square in Boston for a session convened by George Lensing. George asked five of us to come with our favorite three poems by Wallace Stevens. Or, to be a little more specific: the three poems that have shaped or are shaping us. My three: "Mozart, 1935," the XXth canto of The Man with the Blue Guitar, and "The Plain Sense of Things." These are Stevens reaching a dead end, in need of a restart, trying to turn a corner. Learning what it is poetically to reach the end of a line and grope around, in the poem itself, for the new line. In "Mozart" a man is told by the speaker (all imperatives) to play Mozart while rioters are throwing stones at the house and while several have entered the house and are bringing a body down the stairs. How can one going on playing such pure music at a time like this? The second--the "BG" canto--is as close to pure music as Stevens gets. It's linguistically his most experimental poem. He repeats most of the words of the poem, so that few are used, far fewer than the total number of words. It's an over-and-over-again lyric. The back-and-forth argument of the first 19 cantos has here reached its endpoint: nowhere to go ideationally or ideologically. Retreat into pure sound becomes a great liberation. Strumming is improvisation. Constraint can be improvisation. This is the way out. "Plain Sense," a late poem, can't think of the next adjective. This is poetic senility, exhaustion. The whole project is a botch (like Pound assessing the Cantos near the end), and yet, and yet, the poet realizes that this too--this blankness, this end-state--can constitute a poetics, and then end of the imagination is itself one of those things that the imagination has the power to imagine. Another dead-end averted in the poem.

There, that's my talk. Now can I go back to Philly?

valedictions

John Carroll's photos of the annual Writers House event celebrating the achievements of some KWH-affiliated students whom we adore: here.

digress 10% and you too can become a verb

Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave a nice but predictable talk at Penn's commencement yesterday. I was on hand, having a soft spot for pomp and circumstance (more the latter than the former, but still...) At something like half the commencements I've attended, the College of Arts & Science students send up lusty boos upon hearing the business school students (Wharton) announced and touted. I thought I had a good barometer for this, and yesterday--given the apparently fallen status of the figure of the businessperson in America--I expected the boos. But they didn't come. Not a one. Is it that the Classics and Art History majors know that they are just as lost in the world of prospective employment as the 22-year-old now-former student of finance or management? Or that today's college student is too smart and nuanced and individualistic to draw generalizations about what people choose to study from the media's recent second thoughts about business?

Was Schmidt's talk going to be about better management? I doubted it. I thought it would be about innovation and the ethics of the workplace.

But Schmidt's messages were Google's oft-repeated twin messages: (1) don't be evil; and (2) "70-20-10." Spend 70% of your time on the basic expected activities of what you do; 20% on innovation (new projects); and 10% doing whatever digressive, miscellaneous thing you feel like doing ("side projects"). Most of the good new stuff comes from that final 10%. But all that depends on leisure, on other deadlines being met, and--for most businesses--a currently profitable or at least growing core (70%) business. So some of this fell into the "easy for you to say" bin of graduation-speaker platitudes. Perhaps what struck me as more remarkable than any of this (above) was his absolute assumption that technological change is always for the good. Where once we did this, now, lookee here!, we can do this (faster, better, sooner). It's all good. Just a few years ago such statements would always rhetorically require some acknowledgment of the doubts, the counterargument that technological innovation without ethics and good content was empty progress and indeed alienating. None of that yesterday on Franklin Field. To be sure, the Google CEO would ever truly have conceded the legitimacy of such doubts; no, but my point is he didn't feel the need even to acknowledge their existence. And I suppose most of the 10,000 of us there didn't feel that lack pass us by: we were (I too) playing with our phones, texting friends not there, checking the weather to see if it would rain before the end of the ceremony, sending pics to friends and family who didn't have the close-up view of the stage, live-Twittering condensations of the speaker's points, watching the new email pile up.

This is what I'm doing for my 10% today: I'm casting about for things I've achieved or made that might someday become a verb.

don't work

"I really would like to stop working forever--never work again," said Allen Ginsberg to his shrink. [ MORE... ]